Trade unions are frowning on pay hikes for parliamentarians as we reported yesterday. One of them has said the pay increases in the pipeline constitute a drain on the national economy and serve no purpose to the public. We couldn`t agree with them more but can`t help wondering whether it is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
In an e-mail message to us on our editorial comment yesterday, a leading light in the private sector shares with us his experience with a few local politicians. Some years ago, he says, during a tour of the US, his group consisting of some Sri Lankan MPs was taken to the statue of Einstein and, true to form, one parliamentarian asked whether he was a former US president. Luckily, Einstein was dead. Else the great scientist would have given that ignoramus a thundering slap for mistaking a genius for a politician. We have had many such MPs (Morons of Parliament?). In 1977, after the landslide victory of the UNP, one MP in the Kurunegala district dyed all his poultry green, the colour of his party! A former minister of `school education` once challenged teachers and students at a meeting to tell him another name for mathematics. When everybody else failed, he triumphantly declared: `See the deteriorating standards in education. Not even the teachers can answer such a simple question. Learn it from me: The other name for maths is algebra!` Ever since, he has been known as veejaganithaya (algebra). When an undergraduate told the man who dyed his chicken green that he had a problem with the Dean of some faculty, the MP promised to speak to Minister Hameed about it, thinking that the boy had a problem with a Muslim gentleman! These are no jokes.
Ironically, former Deans as well as Vice Chancellors have, despite all their learning, chosen to come down to the same level as the chicken-dyeing nincompoops and, worst of all, are playing second fiddle to them. Children who are being prodded into studying hard might question the wisdom of their parents and teachers as politics has become the last resort of scholars and morons alike. They might ask: Why should we take that circuitous route of passing exams and doing postgraduate studies to get where scholars end up, when we can get there without any schooling?
Back to trade unionists. Burke ( some believe it was Carlyle ) called the Press the Fourth Estate but Churchill thought it was the trade unions that should be called so because of their importance. Be that as it may, the trade unions ought to answer the question that we posed to the MPs yesterday: What has been your service to the country? Trade unions have apparently been doing only two things?putting forward demands and staging strikes to win them. Do they ever inspire/pressure their members to step up productivity? In what way, have they cooperated with their employers to develop the institutions on which they are dependent for a living? What action do they take against errant members who have become confirmed freeloaders? Are they aware that in other countries trade unions take pay cuts during crises and consider it their duty to discipline their members?
Is it that they lack the potential to do so? Nay, that is far from the truth. In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, it was thought Sri Lanka would take weeks if not months to restore electricity, telecommunication, water, rail and road transport etc., in the affected areas, but the much maligned CEB, Telecom, SLR, RDA etc sprang into action and performed a miracle. Within days, those facilities were restored?without overtime claims! But today the same workers are in a slumber.
Workers?in both the state and the private sectors?obviously lack leadership, which has to come not from politicians but their trade unions which are gabbing on anything but their responsibilities. If the unions can goad their members into putting in at least eight hours (of hard work) a day for the salaries they draw, developing the country won`t be an uphill task.
Those who oppose MPs` salary increases?quite rightly so?must ask themselves whether they have a moral to demand pay hikes without working for what they are paid for. To those trade union worthies, too, we have only this to say: Shame! Damn shame! ? or Lajja, Vili lajja!